Mega Millions grand prize soars

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A customer buys Mega Millions lottery tickets at a 7-Eleven store on December 13, 2013, in Chicago, Illinois. Picture: Scott Olson

Des Moines, Iowa -

The Mega Millions jackpot inched toward a US lottery record on Monday as it soared to $586-million amid a frenzy of ticket purchases, raising the possibility that the prize could pass the once-unthinkable $1-billion mark by Christmas Eve should nobody win before then.

Paula Otto, executive director of the Virginia Lottery and lead director for Mega Millions, said ticket sales are ahead of projections for Tuesday's drawing, increasing the likelihood it could shatter the current record of $656-million, set in a March 2012 Mega Millions drawing.

That was enough for Drew Gentsch to buy one ticket on Monday morning. The attorney from Des Moines never plays, but the ballooning jackpot was too good to pass up.

“I think it's ridiculous but you have to dream big,” he said. “The odds of winning are so low, there's no real reason to play. But it's fun to do so once in a while.”

The large Mega Millions prize is the product of a major game revamp in October that dramatically lowered the odds of winning the jackpot. If a winner isn't selected on Tuesday night and it rolls over past the next drawing scheduled on Friday night, Otto predicts the jackpot will reach $1-billion - an unheard-of amount for Mega Millions or Powerball, the two main multi-state US lottery games.

The current jackpot, which is the fourth largest in US history and closely trails the $587.5-million and $590.5-million set by Powerball, has had heavy sales over the last several days. - Sapa-AP

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